Kanako Kuno’s illustrations are made with Japanese precision mixed with French finesse. She is the illustrator behind the greatly successful site MyLittleParis.com focusing on finding and presenting the best of the city.
From Japan to the World
And she needs to start from the childhood experience to tell her story why she – originally Japanese – is living and working in Paris.
Kanako Kuno, illustrator, ‘MyLittleParis‘: Once I was a 2 years old, I moved to Rio de Janeiro with my parents because of my father’s business related position. We lived there for 3 years. My memories about that period are not clear, but very strong. I think I’ve began to draw in order to dig out the memories, reproduce the colours, smells, cultures that I saw, experienced and felt as a child.
It’s my dream to visit Rio de Janeiro one day to see it with my grown-up eyes.
Kanako says herself that it was also there her ‘obsession’ to live in a foreign country begin to develop.
According to her love for art, after finishing high school she began her studies in oil painting at the Tama Art University in Tokyo. But during the studies she realized what was for her the best way of artistic expression.
Kanako: I found out that oil painting was too heavy for me as material, I also felt that I actually didn’t enjoy painting for myself. Then something happened: one day my Italian language professor asked me to illustrate his Italian textbook. That was my first job as an illustrator. Immediately I realized that I love drawing on someone’s demand, with certain limits. I wasn’t an artist, I was a craftsman!
The publisher of the book is still one of my precious clients.
After graduating from the University, Kanako became a freelance illustrator. But she was not able to earn enough from her new profession. She still lived with her parents, working part time in an art supply shop as well as giving drawing lessons for kids.
One year after graduation from the university, without much belief nor ambition, she decided to move to Finland together with her aunt who – as a strong, single career woman – has always been a role model to Kanako. After 2 years both ladies moved again – this time to Oahu Island on Hawaii.
Kanako: I enjoyed so much everything I saw. My aunt took me everywhere. I cooked, cleaned for her, that was my job at that period. I kept drawing for some Japanese clients, but I wasn’t very serious yet about my profession.
But life in Hawaii – the paradise – had begun to be more complicated due to rising conflicts between Kanako and her aunt. Finally, Kanako went back to Tokyo alone – a week after the 9/11. 2001.
An Independent Illustrator
Kanako: I felt that I had nothing. I was tired. I was scared to go back to my country. But I had a very strong feeling for becoming independent. As soon as I went back to Tokyo, I sent e-mails and photocopies of my works to more than 300 companies. In 3 months’ time, I got a stable, regular job as a freelance illustrator. My satisfaction was enormous.
Through being involved in different drawing projects, Kanako learned how to draw a lot – quickly and precisely, having a lot of fun in that learnig process. She also finally started calling herself “illustrator” – without hesitation.
At the same time, her obsession to be abroad – this time by herself – never set her free, even if she tried to forget, diminish it.
Kanako: I saved money little by little. I knew that approaching my 30 years means also that the age limit of applying for the working holiday visa will expire to me. This kind of visa allows you – as a Japanese – to stay and work for one year in a foreign country, eihther Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Great Britain, Germany or France . The visa-system was a perfect one to me: I would like to travel and at the same time keep working.
I really didn’t know where to go. The only idea I had was a country new to me, with rich culture, history and good food. So I choose France.
Kanako’s Little Paris
Even if she was scared to move to a completely new country, her desire of traveling was bigger than anything. She took an airplane and arrived in Paris where she knew absolutely nobody. During this year, she managed to establish a freelance activity, keeping illustrating for Japanese clients.
Kanako: I felt great as I realized that my profession allows me to be anywhere and I took advantage of it. I even reached the point where I made a small show in a shop in Paris, exhibiting my work – and that was for me already too good to be true.
One year passed quickly and Kanako decided to stay a little longer in Paris. At the end of her 2nd year France, she found a dream job for “MyLittleParis“, an online magazine established by two French sisters to introduce their hidden fascinations of this city.
Kanako: With MyLittleParis, my illustration style has changed, developed a lot. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I feel so commited to this city, to this job. As this project worked remarkably well, I started to have new clients in France. With immeasurable support by my colleagues and friends, in the beginning of this year, I got a visa which allows me to work as an illustrator in France.
Sometimes I look back and imagine how it would be if I didn’t happen to come to France by a chance, if I didn’t spent 3,5 years with my aunt who so unexpectedly implanted the spirit of independence in me, there are so many”if”…. Paris is the city that gives me many opportunities, where I have the total personal and artistic freedom – something I dreamed about for such a long time. I don’t know anything about my future – just like I never did in the past. I stay open for the new possibilities and hope that my luck will guide me as it always did.
More of Kanako’s illustrations are also available under the link: mariebastille.com